18-project management

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Project management-18
Study Guide
Introduction
If you have just worked through the opening exercise to this chapter (should chapter references be
included as they aren’t used to organise content in the CWS? Consider rewording), you have probably
noticed that what can be defined as a project is quite wide ranging. A project, whatever it is, and
wherever you do it, usually has a specific purpose or goal. Whether it is at work, as part of your
studies, or in any other area of your life, a project is something that is outside the daily routine.
Do all students have to do them?
Not every student will have to do a project, but there is really no limit on which courses may ask you
to do a project as part of your course. In any course that covers business and management, it is
almost certain that you will do a project of some kind, but they are popular on all kinds of courses. It
is likely that you will not have to do any major projects until you are getting towards the end of your
course and it is also a fair bet that your project mark will count for the final examination results.
Individual projects
Sometimes, you are asked to do an individual research project or dissertation. Have a look at Chapter
17 (should chapter references be included as they aren’t used to organise content in the CWS?
Consider rewording) on dissertations, but here are a few quick reminders about individual project and
research work. The emphasis is on doing something original.
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Choose your title carefully.
Think about the scope that title offers.
Remember the deadline you have to work to.
Be aware of any constraints such as information that is hard to get hold of.
Plan your structure carefully.
Talk to tutors if you run into problems, rather than just going on regardless of them.
Group projects
Individual pieces of work are more often referred to as dissertations, whereas if you are asked to do
an assignment as a group, it will probably be called a project. The group project also gives you more
of an insight into some of the project situations you are likely to face at work, working with a small
group of colleagues. Many of the skills for individual and group projects are identical; for example, the
ability to plan, to research information, gather data, analyse results, and meet a deadline are all
equally applicable. You can add teamwork to the skills-mix for a group project.
If you have a say in the matter
It is possible that you will simply be allocated the group of colleagues with whom you are to work or
this could be dictated by shared interests in a particular topic. If, however, you are able to choose who
you work with, look around for people who, you know, have different strengths. You need someone
who is a good organiser, someone who is good at analysing information, someone who is a persuasive
communicator, etc. You also need people who are committed to doing the work, so avoid those who
always miss lectures, or hand work in late and do not join in seminar discussions.
What skills do you need?
In short, you need most of the skills you have developed so far and probably a few more besides!
Have a look at the diagram below to give you an idea of the skills scope for a project, whether it is
academic or part of your job.
In addition to these, you need
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Self-management skills, ensuring that you make your contribution to the group
Planning skills for designing the project
Interpersonal skills for the communicating with group members and, perhaps, other people
Problem-solving skills
The ability to think creatively.
You have to be a good all-rounder, especially if you are doing a project on your own.
What kinds of topic?
Of course, the topic range available to you is going to be dictated by what course you are studying but
given that management of some kind is linked to so many subjects, business, engineering, health,
information technology and many more, here is an idea of the sorts of issues that projects can
address:
Resolving theoretical questions
Exploring a topic of general interest to managers
Evaluating some aspects of an organisation’s performance
Addressing a practical organisational problem and coming up with a set or recommendations
Implementing and evaluating changes, on the basis of recommendations.
Working with organisations outside college
Your tutors and, even more importantly, you, will want to learn as much as you can from undertaking
a project. In same cases, you may be able to do a “real” project if you can find an organisation that is
happy to work with you. Somewhere where you have worked before, worked part time, or have done
an industrial placement is a good starting point for contact. Not only do they already know you, but
you probably have some ideas of what kinds of project may serve their interests as well as your own.
Many organisations will be helpful and encouraging, a few will not!
Great learning opportunities
Working on a project, whether you work on your own or as part of a group, can give you a wide range
of learning experiences. Here are some of them:
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Liaison with clients, developing negotiating and other interpersonal skills
Diagnostic work on complex situations
Problem-formulation skills, working out what questions you need to answer
Data-planning skills, what data will you need, where will you get it?
A chance to evaluate and compare different methodologies
Techniques for planning and scheduling your work, managing your time effectively
 Information gathering, including information on the Internet
 Experience of collecting primary data, your own surveys or questionnaires, for example.
And there is more
In addition to all these, you may also get the opportunity to:
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Improve your facility with IT, especially data-management packages.
Evaluate information and assess its limitations.
Develop your research skills.
Improve several of your writing skills, drafting, report writing and note taking, for example.
You would think that at the very least, you would be offered the job of Prime Minister, with so many
benefits from just one project. Of course, each project varies in the skills mix it helps you develop,
and you can assess this for yourself. Undoubtedly, research skills help if you want to do a
postgraduate degree.
The first step
Think of a few major projects, the Channel Tunnel, The United Kingdom’s London’s hosting of the
2012 Olympics, The Eden Project, you will have your own favourites as well as those you cannot
stand. None of these happen without careful planning, and this applies just as much to a piece of work
you are doing for your final year assessment. Presumably it will not attract quite so much public
attention, but planning is still just as important. Careful early planning will save you many headaches
further down the track. If you are working as a group, try to get everyone involved at this early stage.
Define your objectives
In work place projects, objectives normally fall under three headings:
1. Performance
2. Cost
3. Time.
An example would be a project with the main objective of designing a new IT system to a particular
specification (performance), within a certain budget (cost) and to be delivered by a certain date
(time). For most student projects, performance, i.e., what you want the project to achieve, and time,
the date on which you have to hand it in, are the significant objectives. For some topics, you might
also like to look at costing, but no one would have to part with any real money.
Enjoy yourself
Try to choose a project that interests you. Yes, this sounds obvious, but you are likely to spend a lot
of time working on it over an extended period, so it needs to hold your interest. If you are working
with an organisation, the project needs to be interesting to them and interesting to whoever is going
to mark it too. Just being interesting is not enough. You need to choose a project that gives you
enough scope and depth to utilise and demonstrate a broad range of your skills. It has to be
something other than just an extended essay.
Your research should never say “I told you so”
It is important that if your project, individual or joint, includes research of some kind, then the results
of this research should be of interest, whatever they are. In other words, your research should not
aim to prove a point; it should aim to find something out. It the jargon, this is referred to as
symmetry of research. In simple terms, if you were investigating drinking habits, a symmetrical
approach would be to discover whether more people prefer tea or coffee, rather than trying to design
research that suggests that most people prefer coffee to tea.
Is it feasible?
If you were being paid by an industry or any other business to manage a project of any kind, you
would definitely be expected to attempt something that is doable and realistic, and this is really what
feasibility refers to. It is quite easy to imagine that what you have taken on is quite feasible in the
time allowed and with the energy and other resources you have. Most projects tend to take far longer
than their original estimated time, many student projects take twice as much time and energy than
what the students anticipated at the planning stage. You must balance ambition against realism.
Disaster spots
Linked to feasibility is the frighteningly titled “scope for catastrophe”. This refers to situations where
you are working with organisations and some changes in that organisation affect your ability to
complete your project, staff changes, redundancies, specific events that you planned to focus on being
cancelled, or postponed. Dwelling on every potential disaster could stop you ever starting a project.
What you can do is try to anticipate possible hazards, not relay on just one contact, and get any
practical work like interviewing or observations in an organisation completed as soon as you can.
Listen for words like “restructuring”, “changes”, or “developments”.
A good proposal
For a project you have to write a project proposal. You may have to show this to tutors before you
start and if you are working with other organisations, they will want to see a proposal. Your proposal
should include:
 A description of the topic you wish to cover or the problem you want to address
 The likely project design
 Your information and data requirements: how you will obtain your data, how you will analyse
it and how you will use it.
Organisations are far more likely to be happy for you to work with them if your proposal is clear and
precise.
Schedules and networks
Every project needs a schedule showing what needs to be done when, what activities are dependent
on other activities, etc. For example, you have to have a designed a questionnaire, before you can use
it as a basis for interviews. You need to gain agreement from an organisation before you can use data
they have provided. It is all about being logical. There is plenty of software available to make project
scheduling easier, but given below is an example of a hand-drawn network to give you an idea of the
kinds of activities that are normally included.
Keep checking your progress
It is essential to monitor progress on your projects. If you are working on your own, you need to set
clear dates by which certain tasks should have been completed. If you are working as part of a project
group, it is really important that each group member has specific goals and deadlines to meet for the
tasks they have agreed to carry out. It is important to have regular meetings to check that this is
really happening. The only formal deadline may be the completion date for the whole project, so all
the interim targets need to be set by you and/or your group.
Log your progress
If it was good enough for Captain Kirk, it should be good enough for you. Write a log of everything to
do with your project. You should note what activities have been undertaken by you or by other people,
the reasons for doing these, and the time taken. You should note any snags encountered and any
insights gained. If you are working in a group, bringing information like this to project meetings will be
really helpful, since it might save other people getting caught out in similar ways, and their
experiences might inform your next project activity.
The project report
Having completed your project, you do, of course, have to write it up. If you are working as a group,
you may share this between you, or there may be group members who are particularly good at this
sort of thing. If you are on your own, well, you are on your own. Your report should include:
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A title page.
A 1- to 2-page summary.
Preface and acknowledgements.
List of contents.
Numbered sections, including introduction, findings, analysis, conclusions, and reflections.
List of tables.
List of references.
Any appendices.
It should, of course, be interesting to read and handed in on time.
Managing projects and your job search
The point has already been made that one of the key points about working on projects, whether you
have been working on your own or with other people, is that they draw on a really broad mix of the
skills you have developed. It follows that they offer an excellent source of evidence if you are
highlighting particular strengths and personal qualities on your CV or at an interview. Even if you are
competing with your peers from the same course for a position with the same company, your project
gives you something different to talk about that is not the same as everyone else’s.
Managing projects at work
You do not have to apply for a job entitled “project manager” to find yourself working on projects.
Project groups and task forces to work on every kind of issue in business and the public sector are a
very popular way of working at the moment. Project groups allow a far less hierarchical management
structure. You might be a leader for one project and a team member for another. You could end up
working on several projects at once. You may be invited to join particular project teams because you
have a recognised skill or a valued approach.
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